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Fine Tuning 101
By Dagmar Morgan - 07/07/2002 - 07:58 PM EDT

I realized as I sat down to begin my first instalment of Fine Tuning that the topic possibilities are endless. As I spun into the chaos room of overwhelm and intrigue. It came to me that before I fly off into the idea stratosphere I should ask myself two simple questions: what do people want to know and what should they know? As a vocalist/Singer, you’re looking for results and answers to questions like: What is really going on in there? How can I improve it? How can fitness, nutrition and wellness help? In this article we’ll look at health basics and daily vocal care. This basic general knowledge will make it easier to move into a more in depth look at how fitness and nutrition will benefit you and your music.

We’ve all heard the stories of whiskey for breakfast, fried peanut butter sandwiches, endless cigarettes and televisions being thrown out of hotel windows. These stories have made and ended legends. Today we know that general physical health should be a steadfast part of life for musicians and civilians alike. The American College of Sports Medicine outlines that average adults should be performing 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity 5-6 days a week (medium means: you are warm and maybe a little sweaty but not overheated and you can still carry on a conversation comfortably). Choose an activity you like, from walking to marathons. As a singer, cardio work will give you general physical endurance, aid in breath control and lungs of steel. Muscle conditioning should be done 3-4 days a week doing 1 set 8-12 repetitions. Weight bearing activities include weight machines, free weights, stretchy bands and soup cans from your kitchen. Weight bearing exercises generally help with posture, bone density and again, endurance. Remember to stretch everyday. It helps with concentration and promotes better results from weight bearing exercises. (It actually helps increase muscle mass). Stretch breaks in practice are fabulous for focus and for correcting any bad postures you may have gotten into while practicing. Maintaining a general level of health is essential for basic vocal functions and will lower risk of disease, in turning, leaving you more time to fire off those amazing vocal licks we all live to deliver.

Longevity is a much sought after thing in music and proper nutrition and diet play a key role in how to attain it. We need nutrients to make energy, help with cell repair, to grow and to make certain metabolic functions happen. Imagine for a moment that your car was running 24hrs a day. How much fuel would you need? How many times would you be at the gas pump a day or a week? The same applies to you. For the body to run its 24hr function factory, it needs a certain amount of gas and clean fuel so as to not clog the lines and stall the engine. The Canada Food Guide recommends that the average adult eat 5-12 servings of grains a day (bread, pasta, rice, cereal), 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit, 2-4 servings of milk products and 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives. Trying to perform or practice when your blood sugar is low (no food in belly) means you will not get very far. Your body knows when it needs food and has ways of telling you. You may start to feel agitated and jittery, getting angry easily. When this happens, don’t break up your band - instead take a break, stretch, go for a short walk or eat something small. Eating well and frequently are keys to maintaining attention, intake of knowledge and the energy to perform.

Now we need to look at basic daily care for the old chords. For maintaining good vocal health you need to warm up your chords for 20-40 minutes every day, sleep properly and avoid certain environments and food; especially before you practice or perform. Warm-ups usually should be about 20 minutes on practice days and 40 minutes on performance days (as you probably won’t practice that day). Vocal teachers are the best resource for vocal warm–ups. Warm-ups should open and loosen muscles gently before you use them. Warm-up everyday even if you don’t practice or perform and it will make certain your muscles get used to the proper position and will also help with proper speaking. The human voice is more sensitive than you think. It needs constant care and tenderness. Take time each day for silence. You heard me; I said cut down on talking. At the very least try to speak more gently and quietly, projecting properly. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You need more rest when doing physical training. The body needs about 24 hrs of repair time after strenuous activity. Rehearsing and performing would be called a workout, I would say. There have also been links to enhanced learning and a good night's sleep. After learning a new physical skill (like playing an instrument or singing), a good sleep will help your neuro pathways and body to lock in the skills.

Avoiding certain foods and environments will help your voice immensely. Limit caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar and smoky bars or clubs. Caffeine and alcohol bring along with them de-hydration and a whole slew of bad health effects. Caffeine will dry out your voice and promote over use. Coffee supresses hunger; you will go longer without food than you should and feel jittery and/or angry real fast. When wired, you may feel like you are being productive until you hit the wall and have a sore throat for the rest of the day. Alcohol is a depressant. You may feel more relaxed and giggly but you actually lose mechanical control over you body. You think you sound great but the audience may disagree. Sugar will give you a high and then drop you really low. You need more than a 15 minute sugar high to get through the performance or rehearsal. You may be starting to feel that vocal is the gateway to becoming a monk but never fear paying attention. Trying to minimize is the goal here.

You now know the basic outlines for general health and vocal care. We will be looking at these topics and many others in more depth in future articles. I’ll even show you how to make yourself a program to improve vocals through diet and exercise, how to goal set and lots of info and direction to get you there. Sign on for the next instalment when I’ll talk about vocals as a sport and singers as athletes.

Dagmar Morgan

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